In recent testimony to Britain's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Bp. Philip Egan of Portsmouth and Northampton Bp. Peter Doyle revealed that Cdl. Nichols, archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, strong-armed them into dropping support of a woman who had been disparaged in local Catholic media after she accused Nichols' predecessor, Cdl. Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, of sexual abuse.
Testifying under oath, Bps. Egan and Doyle said they decided not to issue a statement of support for a known victim of clerical sex abuse after Nichols intervened, warning them that any public backing could fuel attacks on Pope Francis.
In a July 15, 2019 email subpoenaed by the IICSA, Bp. Doyle told the victim he was refusing her request to issue a public statement confirming her credibility, owing to episcopal communications officers' fears that "the statement would be used by sections of the media internationally to get a Pope Francis."
Nichols "reiterated" these same points, Doyle explained. According to the cardinal, the statement would "raise more questions," which certain Catholic media apostolates "would take up in their campaign against the Holy Father."
"By the end of that conversation," said Doyle, "I was convinced that a statement would not be the answer for us."
Bishop Egan likewise told the IICSA, "I saw it as an attempt to discredit the Holy Father, actually, because it was so connected at that time with the Viganò affair."
In spite of evidence to the contrary, in his own testimony before the inquiry last week, Cdl. Nichols denied allegations that his primary concern in the case was shielding Pope Francis from criticism; the welfare of the victim, he insisted, was his foremost concern.
But many observers are voicing doubt over Nichols' claim, pointing to his unique ties to the pope.
In 2009, the abuse victim filed a complaint against Cdl. O'Connor with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
O'Connor, Nichols' predecessor, was a key player in electing Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy; reportedly, in 2013, Francis personally halted the investigation into the allegations against him. The following year, Francis appointed Nichols a cardinal.
Attorneys for UK predator priest victims are calling on Nichols to resign, saying he has proven that he is untrustworthy and incapable of steering the Catholic Church in Britain out of crisis.
In a letter to the IICSA, they slammed officials' "shocking mindset" and "disdain for survivors."
"On all these failings, the buck has to stop with Cardinal Nichols. The charge sheet against Cardinal Nichols is a long one," they wrote.
"Having failed in his leadership roles in both Birmingham and Westminster, he cannot credibly lead the Catholic church on these issues in the future," they continued.
"The systemic problems in the Catholic church in relation to safeguarding are not capable of resolution by a single individual," the attorneys added. "But the church needs leaders who command respect on these issues; Cardinal Nichols does not. It is clear to us, and those we represent, that the time has come for him to step down."